After suffering a severe reduction from around 65,000 in 1970 to just over 2,000 in the mid-1990's, intensive conservation efforts in several African countries have allowed the Black Rhino to increase from an estimated 2,408 in 1995 to a new total of 2,599 in 1997. In a similar fashion, the estimated total population of the White Rhino has risen from 7,563 in 1995, to about 8,466 in 1997.
The new updates, prepared by IUCN's African Rhino Specialist Group, looked at all the countries where one or both species are known to exist in the wild. Overall, the numbers show that the sum of populations in all African rhino range states increased from a previous estimate of 9,971 rhinos in 1995 to a new total of 11,065 in 1997.
It may not seem a very large increase, but when you take into consideration the difficulties in dealing with illegal hunting over large areas, this is definitely good news, explained Dr. Holly Dublin, Chair of the WWF African Rhino Working Group. These figures are a sign that Africa's rhinos are not lost and can be conserved if adequate safeguards and conservation strategies are set in place and strengthened in the countries where rhinos still exist.
The overall decline of rhino populations across Africa has been largely caused by poaching driven in recent decades by a feverish demand for the highly-priced rhino horn used in traditional Chinese medicine and for the making of decorative dagger handles in the Middle East. Despite an international ban on the trade of rhino products established in 1977, the market for horn continues to flourish.
However, the establishment of effective anti-poaching efforts and conservation strategies involving government agencies, local communities and private land owners in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia, has played a major role in stabilizing and gradually restoring rhino populations. Some of theses countries, like South Africa, have even been able to provide rhinos for re-stocking programmes in other range states.
While we are happy about this positive trend, there is no room for complacency, warned Dublin. The nature of any illegal trade is that it will always tempt some people into going for the quick-cash gain; long-term conservation success can only be brought about by increasing the level of awareness among consumers, securing adequate funding for field conservation and identifying alternatives for people to benefit from rhinos without killing them, and that only comes with hard work, dedication and time. A lot remains to be done.
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